An African street vendor wanders around Monastiraki, Athens. Wikimedia/Ggia. Some rights reserved.
I was proud of my country and its institutions on Saturday, 28 September when numerous arrest warrants were issued for members of the neo Nazi, national socialist gang that calls itself a party, Golden Dawn. Among those arrested were its party leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, as well as other members of parliament. I am still proud that they will be tried for their numerous hate crimes including their organized crime activities. It was about time to crush them even if they cannot be nipped in the bud anymore.
Over a week has passed. So much has changed, and yet much remains the same. Instead of witnessing and experiencing a mass sensation of relief, and a wider debate around the issues of hate, racism and tolerance, all we have seen is much ado about nothing.
An embedded suspicion of the political system prevails. The so called 'democratic' political parties of the left and the right continue to snipe at each other in public about the objective of the arrests and the crackdown. Speculation is ripe, in true conspiratorial nature, about why the government took action at this moment in time and what the implications are for others that use violence or at least condone it for political purposes.
Also vivid is the back and forth regarding the so called theory of the extremes; i.e, that Golden Dawn represents the right side of the political pendulum of extremism and that its leftist counterpart is just as virulent and deadly. The last few days are also witness to another phenomenon where mainstream media hosts stories about the jail conditions and eating and other habits of the jailed Nazis....in other words, a sinister twist in lifestyle news.
The public opinion polls indicate a gradual loss of the appeal of Golden Dawn. Too gradual for my tastes. Meanwhile many commentators equate the rise of the extreme right with the effects of the economic and financial crisis that has crippled the social web of the country since 2008. In fact, many suggest that the austerity policies imposed by Greece's creditors have contributed to the rise of racism and hate crimes.
Did I expect anything different in the interpretation by society of what standing up to Golden Dawn means? Unfortunately not, but I am nevertheless appalled and think it is time to call a spade a spade.
We the Greeks are a deeply racist society in denial that feel under threat when the overwhelming homogeneity in the Greek Orthodox context that is Greece is challenged. This happened with the end of communism and the massive influx of a million or so citizens seeking a better life in the El Dorado then called Greece...Albanians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Poles, and others came en masse challenging the institutions and society of a country that was unprepared to deal with the influx, giving rise to virulent debates as to whether the newcomers had a place in Greek society, while the sex trade flourished and most were paid lowly wages that were largely undeclared to the fiscal authorities.
The same has occurred with the new waves of migrants from sub Saharan Africa and North and South East Asia including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iraq (including many Kurds). The inability of the state to process these refugees properly and to provide the basic sanitary and other conditions for them while their cases for asylum were being considered meant the gradual degradation of historic urban neighborhoods of Athens primarily where they sought refuge in dilapidated housing projects while they were exploited by black marketeers and their ilk. The colour of the skins of the second massive wave of asylum seekers obviously prejudices them further thus making their acceptance even more problematic.
How have we reacted as a society? Principally either by turning a blind eye or by finding saviours in the exclusivist ideologies of Golden Dawn and others, while leaving the few NGOs attending to them just as marginalized. I succinctly recall a couple of years ago as I was lunching outdoor in my favourite kebab joint in the historic central district of Monastiraki, Athens when I was accosted by a poor refugee boy from Iraq to whom I gave my spare change. As soon as he left, an elderly man selling lottery tickets demanded that I buy a ticket from him. When I refused, he accusingly told me: "How dare you give your money to that foreign child that is a nobody and refuse to give to me, a fellow Greek?"
Although the aforementioned is an isolated encounter, it embodies the enemy within - the prevailing racism which we do not accept we possess - the exclusivist perspective that suggests a go-it-alone mentality. That we are a chosen people with a history that is the history of mankind, and therefore all our ills including the scourge of illegal immigration are exported by those seeking to exploit, subjugate, and control us. From the international creditors (in particular the Troika and the hated Germans), to the Jews (that guy called Soros is always somehow telling us what to do and financing suspect initiatives and institutions that promote dialogue), to the foreigners that illegally enter our country and take our jobs and women, to the Turks that never act as good neighbours, to the EU and Brussels that puts restrictions on our way of life (including how and when kokoretsi can be made and eaten). The list goes on. In other words, we refuse to evaluate ourselves and blame all our wrongs on others. What don't you get? Greece is for the Greeks (as they define themselves)!
The enemy is within us and unless we begin a national debate about it and educate ourselves and our children that the world is not as black and white as the Nazis and others make it out to be, we will never be able to expunge it.
Maybe one way forward is to establish RA Chapters in every neighbourhood of every city and in every village - Racists Anonymous - where anyone can stand up and utter "I am a racist" and then start discussing it.
Another approach is to start a public recognition of our inability to find fault in ourselves (we are Greeks after all, how could we be at fault?). We could hold a million man march against Nazism, racism and hate with the democrats representing us taking the lead in organizing. And if they can't, our weak civil society should take the lead in mobilizing us.
This is the only way to begin to rub its scourge from under our skins and educate our children that it can never be a viable alternative to our constitutional democracy. It took the murder of a Greek for the state to wake up and begin dealing with the Nazis but unless we find a way to sustain this effort, it will all have been for naught and the enemy will remain within us and grow stronger. We cannot afford to be in denial forever.